“If you misuse power, we will hold you personally liable.” said Hon. Kahinda Otafire, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs at the event to commemorate the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on 26 June 2018 in Kampala. The Minister reiterated the government’s position on individual liability for public servants, especially security agencies, for claims of compensations by victims of torture.
The event - under this year’s theme “Rehabilitate Torture Survivors, Bring Perpetuators to Justice.” - was jointly organized by ACTV – the African Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture, the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Similar joint commemoration events were held simultaneously in Gulu and Moroto.
At the Kampala event Mr. Med Kaggwa, Chairperson of the UHRC in his remarks noted that despite gazetting the regulations for the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act (2012), its implementation is still challenging given the lack of a witness protection framework and fear of reprisals. “Let us all walk the talk as we commemorate the International Day in Support of Torture Survivors.” Said Med Kaggwa.
Ms. Nicole Bjerler, OHCHR Deputy Country Representative, stressed the absolute prohibition of torture. “The use of torture and other forms of ill-treatment is illegitimate and can never be justified – not during a state of emergency, instability or when investigating sensitive security matters,” she emphasized. She called for a holistic approach that covers both prevention, prosecution of perpetrators, and rehabilitation of survivors of torture, and emphasized the importance of supporting victims in their efforts to seek justice.
The victims of torture - under the Torture Survivors Association - explained the insurmountable challenges that they experience in the pursuit of justice including delayed compensation, absence of medical treatment, difficulty in adducing evidence where victims have been detained incommunicado and the evidence is between the victim and the perpetuator alone, erasure of torture marks due to long periods of detention and lost medical and police files. The Association’s Chair, Mr Fred Baguma, also highlighted that in many cases, the awards by the Uganda Human Rights Commission to victims of torture are not commensurate to the awards in courts for what are considered to be lesser crimes than torture. The survivors recommended fast-tracking the torture cases through the UHRC and court systems, free treatment for victims of torture and timely compensation.
Speaking at the event in Gulu, Alfred Okettayot, ACTV Gulu , mentioned that torture sought to humiliate the victim’s personality while denying the inherent dignity of the human being. He expressed concern that “protecting national security, enforcement of cultural norms, boundary and, or border conflicts are increasingly used to perpetrate torture and other forms of cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment and punishment,” He added that “the pervasive consequences of torture go beyond the isolated act on an individual and is often transmitted through generations with a cycle of violence.”
The commemoration events were preceded by community outreach programs including a joint monitoring visit to Gulu Main Prison as well as the Remand home, community dialogues, and football match involving Boda-Boda riders.
In Moroto, a public dialogue was conducted for more than 80 participants from the Justice, Law and Order Sector. The dialogue explored what more needs to be done to implementthe Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act (2012). Emmanuel Bryma Momoh, OHCHR Moroto Team Leader, said that the legal framework prohibiting torture is one of the most developed in International Human Rights Law. He further noted that the act of torture does not require to be intentional, but could be a negligent act or an act of omission without specific intent to inflict torture. He added that even if torture is not practiced as part of a pattern of widespread or systematic violation, each act of torture gives rise to an affirmative obligation on the part of the state to investigate, prosecute and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.
In all the activities to commemorate the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, there were repeated calls for the Government to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture 2006 (OPCAT) – an instrument that would help in the fight to preventing torture before it happens by granting human rights bodies unfettered access to all places of detention in Uganda.